539 BCE to 632 CE: The Story

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Roman emperors tended to rule from afar. Local leaders handled day-to-day affairs; perhaps the most famous was Herod, known for his great building achievements, his efforts to appease both the Romans and Jews, his quest for stature, and his paranoia.

ancient history quizLike their Greek predecessors, the rulers of Judea during the Roman period extracted heavy taxes and often offended monotheistic sensibilities.  Tensions came to a head with a full-fledged revolt beginning in 66 CE.  The Romans responded with a series of assaults culminating in the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The war between the Romans and the Jews continued until the defeat of the Jews with the fall of the desert fortress of Masada in 73 CE. According to the first century historian Josephus, 960 men, women, and children committed suicide there rather than surrender to the Romans.

During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, Jews had established communities in new regions, including Egypt, Asia Minor and the Roman Empire. In 115 CE, Jews in the diaspora communities rose up in revolt against the Romans, but again the Romans armies emerged victorious.

The last armed revolt--called the Bar Kokhba Revolt after its leader--occurred between 132 and 135 CE, attempting to liberate the Jews from their Roman oppressors who had outlawed circumcision and replaced Jerusalem with a pagan city.  This rebellion was crushed after three and a half years of battle, during which hundred of thousands of Jews died, changing the ethnic make-up of the land. Though still a majority overall, Jews existed as a minority or not at all some regions. Around this time, the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the province from Judea to Palestina in an effort to de-emphasize the Jewish connection to the land. 

The Roman Empire became Christian in 315 CE, placing Palestine under dual law: Roman and Christian. The legal and social status of the Jews was redefined; new laws regulated Jewish marriage, commerce, synagogue construction and Jewish-Christian social relations.  For example, Jews were not permitted to own Christian slaves.

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